Chomp is a YA novel by Carl Hiaasen, and I have to say, I adored this book. It follows Wahoo Cray, a young man (maybe around 13) whose father is an animal wrangler. That is, they keep all sorts of wildlife in their backyard in a small town on the outskirts of Miami, and whenever a TV or movie company wants to film a commercial or movie with wildlife in it, they call Wahoo’s dad. The Crays have a very large but tame (-ish) alligator, a huge boa constrictor, monkeys, all sorts of birds, and so on. Wahoo himself is missing a thumb because one time when he was feeding the gator, Alice, he wasn’t careful and she took off a little more than she was supposed to.
Unfortunately, there was a freak deep freeze in southern Florida and a frozen iguana fell out of a tree and knocked Wahoo’s father unconscious. That was months ago, and ever since he’s had horrible headaches and doublevision and they’ve been unable to take on any TV jobs. Since they’re behind on their mortgage, Wahoo’s mom has flown to China to teach Chinese lessons to visiting executives, leaving her son and husband to fend for themselves. When an offer comes in from a nature show offering big money, Wahoo tells them his dad will take the job, planning to do most of the work himself.
The nature show is a reality TV series about Derek Badger, a supposed survivalist who is dropped into various remote, tropical settings every week and has to rely on his wits to survive. In reality, Derek is a nincompoop with a fake Australian accent who relies on his crew to make him look good and takes a helicopter back to a luxury hotel every evening after filming is over. His one asset that makes his TV career possible is that he’s willing to eat anything. The Crays’ agreement to supply animals for an episode set in the Everglades sets in motion a series of events that will challenge all participants in unforeseen ways.
Last year I read an anthology called Grit Lit collecting “Rough South” stories. In a lot of ways, Chomp reminds me of a kid’s version of one of those stories. In my review of that book, I said that most of the characters were “folks with a tendency towards drink, violence, and short-term employment,” and that’s the case here is well. Although the younger age group it’s aimed at necessitates a brighter style of storytelling than the stories in Grit Lit, this book has an awful lot of backwoods drunkards and layabouts up to no good. In Chomp, that makes for a lot of very funny scenes.
Chomp has a great voice, a definite and unique setting, and tons of great humor. My son (11 years old) has read it and really liked it, and I think anybody from his age on up to adult would enjoy it as well.